News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Part 3 of a Review of Karl Marx by Francis Wheen

Not only Marx was incapable or, and more likely, unwilling to express himself clearly, but Engels too had a similar weakness for phrases and often produced dreamy, flighty, effeminate, jejune, hagiographic stuff as well. ... a poem written by Engels in 1842 includes a vivid description of his future collaborator - whom he hadn't yet met - based entirely on the breathless reminisces of fellow intellectuals:

Who runs up next with wild impetuosity?
As swarthy chap of Trier, a marked monstrosity.
He neither hops nor skips, but moves in leaps and bounds,
Raving aloud. As if to seize and then pull down
To Earth the spacious tent of heaven up one high,
He opens wide his arms and reaches for the sky.
He shakes his wicked fist, raves with a frantic air,
As if ten thousand devils have him by the hair.

With Engels one of the brighter bulbs in Marx's proximity, it's not difficult to understand why the prophet shone so luxuriantly in comparison.

With regard to the Marxian beard, the author points out that it was a stage-prop for the audience:

This apparently careless luxuriance was contrived quite deliberately. Both Marx and Engels understood the power of the hirsute, as they proved in a sneering aside halfway through the pamphlet on the poet and critic Gottfried Kinkel, written in 1852:

"London provided that much venerated man with a new, complex arena in which to receive even greater acclaim. He did not hesitate: he would have to be the new lion of the season. With this in mind he refrained from the time being from all political activity and withdrew into the seclusion of his home in order to grow a beard, without which no prophet can succeed."

Like many prophets, Jesus Christ comes to mind, Karl Marx was often cruel to his apes and not at all pleasant to be around. The historian, Karl Friedrich Koppen, a habitue of the Doctors Club, found himself paralyzed whatever he was in Marx's company. ' Once again I now have thoughts of my own,' he wrote soon after his fearsome friend had left Berlin in 1841, ' ideas that I have (so to speak) produced myself... now I can really work once more, and I'm pleased to be walking around amongst complete idiots without feeling that I am one myself...'

It is worth noting, first of all, that Karl Friedrich Koppen writes clearly! Marx was not just obscure, but also, no doubt, cultivated ferociousness in order to keep doubters and worse, hecklers, at a safe distance. For one suspects that the Marxian failure to generate sustainable trains of logic must have been clear to many observers. Through cultivating a ferocious temper, a fierce gaze, a disarming and disruptive contempt, and nasty vulgar manners, no doubt many civilized individuals were unwilling, simply couldn't be buggered, to go toe-to-toe with the mean-spirited little weasel.

An example of his juvenile bullying appears on page 41. This again, is quite telling, and substantiates my growing sense that left-wing academics, particularly the opinion leaders, are fundamentally juvenile at heart.

As soon as I was in the house, he shut the doors, hid the key and cheered comically at me that I was his prisoner.... He came over to me, gave me to understand that he had me in his power, and, with a malice that recalled an imp rather than the intended devil, he began to attack me with threats and cuffs. I begged him to spare me that sort of thing, because it went against the grain to pay him back in the same coin. When he did not stop I gave him a serious warning that I would deal with him in a way which he was certainly feel when that too did no good I saw myself compelled to dispatch him into the corner of the room. When he got up I said that I found his personality boring and asked him to open the front door. Now it was his turn to be triumphant. 'Go home then, strongman,' he mocked, and added a most comical smirk.... In the end I warned him that if he would not open the door for me, then I would get it open myself and he would have to pay for the damage. Since he only answered with mocking sneers, I went down, tore the front door off its lock and called out to him from the street that he should shut the house up to prevent the entry of thieves. Dumb with amazement that I had escaped from his spell, he leaned out of the window and goggled at me with his small eyes like a wet goblin.

The author's excuse is that Marx was drunk. But drunkenness in itself tells me plenty, not to mention which the pathetic struggle by Marx to dominate Koppen, by hook or by crook, if not by wit then by physical force, shows him yet again playing sophomoric psychological games. If he was a superior thinker, then why not out-think the man, out-wordsmith him, dazzle him with extemporaneity, anything but this sort of homo-erotic bumbling.

On page 45 the author and Marx conspire again to demonstrate that neither has a talent for syllogism:

Reporting a comment by one of the knightly half-wits in the provincial assembly - 'It is precisely because the pilfering of wood is not regarded as theft that it occurs so often - he led rip with a characteristic reductio ad absurdum: 'By analogy with this, the legislator would have to draw the conclusion: it is because a box on the ear is not regarded as a murder that it has become so frequent. It should be decreed therefore a box on the ear is murder.'

This may not have been communism but it was quite not enough to worry Prussian officialdom...

This is indeed rather amusing, but because Marx, the indefatigable bumbler, gets it wrong, yet again. Boxing the ears, like pilfering of wood was common because neither was an infraction of the law. Applying a legal penalty to both would likely reduce their incidence. Given that the penalty for pilfering is not death, why should it be death for boxing the ears? Here, yet again, Marx gets excited, tries too hard, gets lost in verbal effects and fumbles the ball.

Par for the course. He does this again and again, with a monotonous and implacable regularity. He can't think to save his life because there's something wrong at the foundation of his thought processes. We've all met the type of unfortunate person, who with an awful inevitably gets everything wrong and who only gets something right by accident. Even if said person concludes something sensible, upon investigation it turns out that it's inevitably for the wrong reason. Point this out convincingly to said person, and on realizing their error, he immediately embraces a new conclusion: one that is palpably wrong. In the same vein and for the same reasons, expecting Marx to get something right is expecting monkeys banging on typewriters to bang out Shakespeare in short order. It just ain't going to happen with this guy.

A case in point, as if one needed anymore evidence of this, is Marx's racial views. From page 55: In his later correspondence with Engels, he sprayed anti-Semitic insults at his enemies with savage glee: the German Socialist Ferdinand Lasalle, a frequent victim, was described variously as the Yid, Wily Ephraim, Izzy and the Jewish nigger. ' It is now quite plain to me - as the shape of his head and the way his hair grows also testify - that he is descended from the Negroes who accompanied Moses' flight from Egypt, unless his mother or paternal grandmother interbred with a nigger,' Marx wrote in 1862, discussing the ever fascinating subject of Lasalle's ancestry. ' Now, this blend of Jewishness and Germanness, on the one hand, and basic negroid stock, on the other, must inevitably give rise to a peculiar product. The fellows importunity is also niggerlike.

That Marx was racist can be explained away as him simply being a product of his times, though there were plenty of intelligent people who didn't take to it. But more importantly than this, and as the author fails to surmise, Marx's motivation here is simply to acquire power over Lasalle through denigrating his background. Since Marx was intimidated by him, he tried to overcome him at a safe distance through besmirching his name and reputation. Again, we have the signature of an inferiority-complex driven individual with a lust for power and no talent to achieve it, and who thus resorts to vulgar, violent, unintelligent means to achieve his ends.

Marx isn't comical: he's a bullying, crude, sinister, pathetic medieval figure right out of Grimm's Fairy Tales. He wasn't a prophet of the future, but a traditional unenlightened tyrant with the prejudices, violent means, and lack of honor pervasive during the Age of Chivalry. In another age, he would have hired himself out to the Inquisition and gone a-hunting witches and a-torturing sorcerers, participating in perpetrating Europe's biggest Big Lie and pocketing the usual percentage the Church issued to its informants, torturers, and other professional opportunists. Unfortunately for Marx, he lived in a more liberal and enlightened age, and was thus left instead with only such mediocre opportunities as taking advantage of all the mediocrities around him, from his wife, to his parents, to his maid, to his friends. He was a fraud and financially speaking a failure, except where he was successful as a sponge. The fact that his ideation and writings have gone on to impact the 20th century is not a testament to his intelligence and innovation, but a testament to the lack of intelligence and ignorance that the masses, and particularly the post-proletariat intelligentsia, have shown when given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves. From beginning to end, Marx clearly wrote for the economically illiterate, inventing a sort of 19th-century parallel to Creation Science but dedicating it to idiots with liberal arts backgrounds.

In his writings he makes the most elemental mistakes, revealing an intellect almost as feeble as Noam Chomsky's. He confuses professionals with laborers, exhorts feudalism as superior to capitalism. But rather than just make claims, I suppose it's better to let Francis Wheen and Marx speak for themselves. From page 69:

Furthermore, in a prosperous society there will be growing concentration of capital and more intense competition. 'The big capitalists ruin the small ones and a section of former capitalists sinks into the class of the workers which, because of this increase in numbers, suffers a further depression of wages and becomes ever more dependent on the handful of big capitalists. Because the number of capitalists has fallen, competition for workers hardly exists any longer, and because the number of workers has increased, competition among them has become all the more considerable, natural and violent.'

Big capitalists may ruin small ones, although it's quite often a matter of buying them out (ex: Microsoft) and making them super-millionaires or the smaller defeating the bigger (GM and Toyota), but very few capitalists are going to sink back to become workers. That's ludicrous. Most people who run small businesses are very conservative, particularly when they're not very bright; and the overwhelming majority of millionaires, contrary to the expectations of wage slaves, are in fact quite thick (check out the photos of the millionaires that make it to the top of the direct marketing biz: many of them are clearly foreigners in the country they're operating, and, given the garish costumes and dim-witted expressions you find in abundance, to assume that the run of the mill is cultivated and knowledgeable is to be very optimistic) And, because they're thick, they're not given to taking chances in the main and almost always hedge their bets. When they invest, they almost always diversify so that in the event their business goes bust, their finances don't go bust with it. It must be a tiny fraction of business people who actually lose their shirt with their business goes bust. The whole point of incorporation is to keep debt-collectors at a safe distance in the event of bankruptcy. The type of person who becomes a millionaire in the first place is generally not the kind of person who takes chances and places all their money on one horse. Most people who gamble remain poor; as they say, gambling is a tax on the stupid. Successful businesspeople don't gamble; they place their bets on sure things. It is for this reason that they become wealthy in the first place. In other words, it is only the economically illiterate, a failing often found in the humanities literate, who can actually be fooled by such absurd claims and presumptions. How can one possibly believe that Marx, who supposedly devoted the better part of his life to the British Museum, actually spent most of it reading up on economics? It's far more likely that spent his day riffling through anthropology texts, the porn of an earlier era.

More Marx and Wheen: A day's missed toil is as worthless in the market as yesterday's morning newspaper, and can never be recovered. ' Labor is life, and if life is not exchanged every day for food it suffers and soon perishes.' Unlike other commodities, labor can be neither be accumulated nor saved - not by the laborer, at any rate. The employer is more fortunate, since capital is ' stored up labor' with an indefinite shelf life.

So which is it? Labor can be stored up, or not? If capital is stored-up labor (i.e. everything from money to manufacturing equipment (from hammers to machine presses)), why on earth prevents employees from having capital? And, either way, why can't they invest in corporate stock? Why can't they invest in their own business? And how is it that a day's missed toil is worthless? A day's missed toil can be a day applied to training, to study, etc. What is a two-year MBA program but two years of missed toil?

Marx endlessly spouts gibberish and it takes a genuine Simple Simon to swallow this kind of garbage, rub his tummy and come back for more. Either that, or it requires a mindset which has a prodigious disregard for sense and logic, one which is motivated by something entirely different from an upstanding intellectual desire to understand the world around us. And that motive is one which Marx manifests endlessly, desparately, fanatically: the lust for power and at any price, provided someone else, anyone else foots the bill.

When the ambitious fail to achieve power through the usual accepted means, due to wilful incompetence, youthful ignorance, or whatever, for those with the gift of gab, the power of words to deceive becomes very tempting. As I hope I have demonstrated, Marx was essentially willing to do whatever it took to achieve power. Whether it was hiding his intent through poetic imagery, physically bullying his friends, playing theatre via growing a beard and refusing to bathe, resorting to racism to keep his competitors at a safe psychic distance, on to being ferocious and domineering at every turn with everyone, his intent, from beginning to end, was to achieve what he could not achieve via noble means: power, fame, and financial security.

I only got as far as page 78 of this 383 page biography. Perhaps you'll have more endurance than me...

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